[LMB] Work

Elizabeth Stowe estowe427 at gmail.com
Sat Dec 21 13:21:46 GMT 2013

William Wenrich wrote: 
I've been struck lately by the changes in how people view work and how (or
if) it is appreciated. On Barrayar, the only work that is important is the
military. Roric is looked down on (that's a joke about his height) even by
himself because he was police not military or Impsec. Elena thought the only
worthy career, one she was barred from, was soldier.

es: Yes. It's interesting to me that Barrayar, like Chalion, emphasizes military importance because (1) they are fighting wars at the times of the stories, and (2) they represent "olden times" when there was more segregation in people's roles. Then, within those parameters Bujold looks at the poor, country people (Mountains of Mourning), those engineered for the sake of war (Taura, and I'd add the quaddies on the guess that some or a lot of their work will be part of military-industrial complexes), and collateral damage (Borders of Infinity). Just to name a few examples; I'd add that her stories of war inevitably focus on the price of war on those engaging in it. I realize this is a bit beside your point.

William continues:  In RL, honest work used
to be applauded. Now, only white collar and even then it must be purely
intellectual. Engineers are not exactly classy. (I hear an echo in Professor
Vorthys.) A good machinist,  cabinet maker, mechanic, or plumber, IMNSHO,
dies more to increase wealth and the general condition of mankind than many
other jobs.

es: Yes, but I get all political about this point. I think when this bothers some of us, we should ignore the sources of that propaganda and promote our own views. Instead, I'll approach your point from another angle: who is writing? who is being written about? Someone told me I couldn't write about anyone outside the privileged class because that's all I've experienced. Angered, I wrote two stories in which major characters weren't college educated or well off. To generalize, if the people talking about who is important are themselves limited to the privileged class (define it however you wish), they will probably identify themselves as most important.

William notes: Consider the problems between the Lakewalkers and Farmers. To Farmers,
Lakewalkers are arrogant and dangerous. To Lakewalkers, Farmers are stupid
because they lack ground sense. However, Lakewalker tech is insane. They can
make a great sharp sword that will never rust, one a year. In that year, in
a Farmer town (small city?), there is a factory that can make swords for an
army. They are like the Indowy, make one fantastic spaceship that is a
unique work of art rather than a thousand spaceships that are what is

es: Before quoting your next paragraph, I just want to throw in the possibility that both kinds of swords are important. My husband ran a small investment casting in aluminum company for 20+ years, making short runs (often prototypes). If a customer wants a kazillion of something, he can often get it done as a die-casting, sand casting, or machined. If a customer wants a specific number of parts, each of which needs to meet tighter standards than other casting or machining methods, he can go to someone like my husband (well, there are fewer small manufacturing companies these days, but you get my drift). Generalizing, some people like cheap pens and some people like fancy dancy pens. My bugaboo is when I'm not given a choice.

William writes: Every time Dag suggests that Farmers could do some of the things in camp, he
gets, "We will not become Lords!" In other words, since what we make is
better, we must do it all. There is a classic precept of economics,
comparative advantage. An example, a lawyer was a champion typist at 120
wpm, she put himself through law school typing. She should still hire
someone to do her typing, even though she types faster, because she can earn
more as a lawyer. Her opportunity costs for the time she would spend typing
are greater than the cost of hiring the typist. To Lakewalkers, if it
doesn't involve ground sense, it is unimportant. After all, even a Farmer
could do that.

es: Do the Farmers have a memory or tradition of not becoming Lords because of the mage who caused the malices in the first place? Sorry, my memory is bad. It's interesting that in defining their identify, they need/choose to limit their possibilities. As for the lawyer, I wonder if one lawyer would be relieved to have the typing done for her while another would prefer to do her own. At my first tech writing job, I used a computer with word processing or MS/DOS off the VAX (1980). At my second tech writing job, I was given a mechanical pencil and told to give my work to the secretaries (this did not please me). I realize that this is not your point concerning comparative advantage. My point is that it sometimes isn't the money; it's what a worker wants. But what I hear about seems to be all about the money.

Back to Bujold: I'm amazed at how real the minor characters appear. The woman who messes up the embryos at the start of Ethan of Athos. The farmer who needs to bury the Death Magic dead at the start of Curse of Chalion. The many minor military characters in her books who are misled into following bad leaders and the few minor military characters who have the opportunity to act on their own integrity (Weatherman, or Miles at the North Pole).

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